Wrap-up: Virtual 2020 Memphis Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church



“By Faith” was the theme for the 2020 Memphis Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church that took place on three nonconsecutive days in September: the Clergy Session on Sept. 3, the Service of Ordination, Commissioning and Licensing on Sept. 12 and all remaining business and worship on Sept. 26.

All components took place in virtual formats utilizing streaming and Zoom video conferencing, making this the first Memphis Annual Conference that did not involve gathering in person. These extraordinary measures were necessitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Germantown United Methodist Church in Germantown, Tennessee, hosted the activities with limited in-person participants and guests, all masked and practicing social distancing. These measures, including postponing from the original Annual Conference dates in June, were taken to protect the health of attendees and hosts.

The 2020 Memphis Annual Conference planning team partnered with GNTV Media Ministry to produce the virtual gathering. GNTV coordinated delegate and other participation via Zoom video conferencing and voting on a separate, secure platform.

To execute the new virtual format, trainings and rehearsals were conducted in the days leading up to the three events.

Video recordings of the Sept. 12 and Sept. 26 virtual gatherings are now available. Because the Sept. 3 Clergy Session was a private event and not open to the public, there will be no recording available to the public.

Bishop William T. (Bill) McAlilly opened Annual Conference, over which he presided, by expressing appreciation for the gift of technology and a dream to return to in-person worship and fellowship.


Less than 100 people were in attendance at Germantown United Methodist Church while the number of offsite viewers reached 2,913, according to data from Dr. David Russell, Memphis Conference secretary and recently retired senior pastor of Benton First United Methodist Church in Benton, Kentucky, and Rev. Bill Lawson, audio visual and technical consultant for the 2020 Memphis Annual Conference and retired pastor serving Briensburg United Methodist Church in Benton, Kentucky.

Only delegates had access to the Zoom webinar with 375 unique viewers, but some viewers were accompanied by two-three people.

577 total registered delegates eligible to vote included 287 lay delegates and 290 clergy delegates. The highest number of votes cast on any one vote was 340.

If reserve/alternate lay delegates and clergy from other conferences who registered, but were not eligible to vote, are added, the numbers increase to 308 clergy and 326 lay.

The webinar was streamed to YouTube and Facebook, bringing total non-delegate viewers to 2,583. YouTube accounted for 706 and Facebook for 1,832.

The Memphis Conference mobile app had 1,033 views on Sept. 26.


In addition to 2020 being a year for new realities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it also has been a year of global events that have renewed attention to what McAlilly called the “pandemic of racism.”

Reminding delegates about the mission of The United Methodist Church and the teachings of John Wesley to offer justice and peace in a broken world, he introduced an anti-racism video.

McAlilly asked the virtual audience to watch the video, fin­­­­­­­d their “empathetic hearts and minds,” realize that “systemic change begins with us” and “be leaders in dismantling racism” in West Tennessee and Western Kentucky.

His prayer was that “we understand cultures different than our own.” He implored, “Help us see what we have not seen, know what we have not known and go where we have not gone.”

  • The service of ordination, commissioning and licensing took place Saturday, Sept. 12. CLICK HERE for separate story.
  • Opening worship on Sept. 26 included a message from Bishop McAlilly in which he called 2020 a year with "liturgical rhythms" that are “all out of sync” due to COVID-19. He acknowledged a “disorienting” and “stressful” time with “no road map” for doing church, but said he continues to “walk by faith unafraid” and encouraged all to “open their eyes” to see where to place “next steps.” Citing the “messiness” between “what was” and “what will be” and the fact that “working for God in the church has never been easy,” he instructed United Methodists in the Memphis Conference to be strong, courageous and fearless.
  • The memorial service on Sept. 26 honored 21 clergy and clergy spouses who died during the past year: Thomas Alton Bullock, Lloyd Doyle, Jr., Williams Rayburn Gentry, Sr., Kathleen Mathis, Sarah Moore, Mary Mitchell Morgan, James Mulroy, Mary Nance, Paul Peck, Shirley Jean Penney, Paul Lincoln Phillips, Geraldine Puckett, Mary Riley, Joseph Skelton, Edward Walton.
  • The retirement service on Sept. 26 celebrated 16 clergy with 463 years of combined service: Debora Ann Christiansen, Richard W. Clark, James Davis, Robert Ferguson, Diane Harrison, John Jeffrey Irwin, Jonathan Jeffords, Virginia Jones Finzel, Harry F. Mathewson, Lenn Harris Milam, Dennis P. Neenan, John Michael Pilcher, Robert Michael Potter, David Russell, William M. Vaughan, III, Judith Fisher Wolfgang
  • Closing worship on Sept. 26 included the setting of clergy appointments.
  • The Sept. 26 Worship Guide is located here.

The Future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference that combines the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences of the Nashville Episcopal Area is set to launch in January 2022, after being postponed from the original launch date of January 2021. Postponement was caused by the postponement of the 2020 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference where the future conference must be confirmed.

For more information about the future conference that was affirmed at the 2019 Memphis Annual Conference, visit the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference prelaunch website at twkumc.org.

Members of the Guide Team that is coordinating task teams gave reports on progress and plans for the future conference, after which votes were taken on four matters related to the future conference. All four resolutions passed:
  • Resolution for Office Space Study and Sale of Conference Property (1-page PDF)
  • Resolution for Current Appointments of Officers, Agencies, Boards and Other Officers to Continue Through Dec. 31, 2021 (1-page PDF)
  • Resolution regarding Continued Progress Toward Future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference (2-page PDF) | Proposed Structure Graphic (1-page PDF)
  • Resolution appointing Joint Distributing Committee (3-page PDF)
2021 BUDGET 

Delegates approved a conference budget of $4,209,431 for mission and ministry in 2021. This is a 17.84% decrease from the 2020 budget.

2021 will be a year of increasingly aligned ministries with the Tennessee Conference as the two conferences make their way through the 2021 transition year to be ready for the launch of the future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference in January, 2022.

Alignment includes a combined office of administrative services in 2021.

Members of the Memphis Annual Conference were reminded about the “connectional commitment,” a new funding plan that will begin in 2021. Details of how the "connectional commitment" works appear on pages 4-5 of Exhibit A of Resolution Approving Formation of a New Conference approved by delegates to the 2019 Memphis Annual Conference.


Harry Denman Evangelism Awards for the Memphis Conference were presented to three individuals:
  • Youth: Jake Cocke, Braden United Methodist Church, Mason, TN 
  • Laity: Carolyn Carnesale, Wesleyan Hills United Methodist Church, Memphis, TN
  • Clergy: Laura Ibarra-Hernandez, Hispanic Missional Strategist, Mississippi River and Purchase Districts 
Sponsored by the Foundation for Evangelism, the Denman Award honors persons who make outstanding efforts in Wesleyan evangelism by helping to bring others into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Click here to read more about 2020 award recipients.


No dollar amounts can be reported quickly because funds are being donated electronically and by mail. Individuals, groups and churches may still contribute:
  • Tornado Survivors: Recovery efforts continue in hard-hit Nashville and surrounding area of the Future Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference from March 3 tornado activity.  | DETAILS | DIRECT GIVING LINK
    The Jerusalem Fund: This confidential ministry of the Memphis Conference provides assistance to Memphis Conference clergy facing short-term financial hardships. Begun in 1994, the fund is administered by the Bishop’s Office. District Superintendents receive requests or may make recommendations for grants. Make checks payable to "Memphis Conference UMC, designate "Jerusalem Fund" and mail to Treasurer's Office, 24 Corporate Blvd., Jackson, TN 38305 OR DONATE ONLINE.

Delegates endorsed the candidacy of Dr. Autura Eason-Williams for the episcopacy. She currently serves as pastor of Capleville United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Click here to read more about Eason-Williams.

Rev. Dan Weathersbee, retired clergy, was named the winner of a hymn writing contest to celebrate the 180-year history of the Memphis Conference.

Dr. Mark Matheny, History Task Group coordinator, announced Weathersbee’s winning hymn, In Christ the World To Touch. Lyrics and music for the hymn appear on page 9 of the Sept. 26 Worship Guide.

The contest was announced in January with a March deadline.  Click HERE for contest details.

Bishop McAlilly recommended three books for United Methodists in the Memphis Conference to read: OTHER BUSINESS

Delegates and other viewers also: 
  • Watched a recorded passing of the mantle from the retiring class of clergy to the newly ordained, commissioned and licensed class of clergy. Mimi White represented the incoming and Dennis Neenan represented the outgoing.
  • Heard reports from the Council on Finance and Administration, Board of Trustees, Board of Ordained Ministry and Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
  • Approved consent agenda and nominations report.
  • Watched video messages and reports about conference ministries.
  • Approved charge line changes and church closures, discontinuances and mergers.
  • Did not vote on two resolutions from the Conference Resolutions Committee that were ruled “out of order” based on rulings by the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.
  • Heard Bishop McAlilly’s closing appeal to be people of “quiet courage.”
Find all reports, video, photos and more at www.memphis-umc.net/2020AC

~Compiled by Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications